There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that home cooked meals are not only better for you but they also help keep a family unit together. This leaves me feeling like some 1950s housewife throwback. I don’t like it. I don’t have the cooking skills for it.
So while living on take-out is tempting, I’ve taken the cheaper and healthier route of online weekly meal plans. These babies tell you what to cook, how to cook and even provide you with a shopping list, so you don’t have to think at the grocery store, either.
The only thing you need to decide is what meal plan to go for, but there’s a lot of them. Luckily for you, I have done the hard yards, reviewed and cooked the following services, talked to other moms that use them and given you this overview. You’re welcome.
The premise is that you buy 20 fresh ingredients and that gets you through 5 meals in a week. Saving you time, but also money, as you minimize food waste. One night’s leftovers becomes the heart of tomorrow’s meals. You can choose different meal plans from Classic, Paleo, Vegetarian, Kosher, Gluten Free, Dairy Free and meals for one. Each meal plans come with estimated cost per week but really depends on how well stocked your pantry is. However, one mom felt things like rice vinegar etc were too way out of her normal pantry range to be useful. But fellow mom blogger Julia has used Fresh 20 for two years and swears by it. I can see why. The recipes on this site are consistently tastier than any other plans I’ve tried. I also learnt some great new ways to jazz up vegetables for toddler consumption – which is my holy grail right now. But emphasis is on fresh, whole food recipes can be overly complicated (homemade tortillas) they say it takes an hour to prep, so not for the beginner or the time-poor. Easy, user friendly website, and recipes are emailed once a week. They publish a great cookbook, too.
Cost per month: $65 a year Annual Plan
Best For: Whole foodies
Overall Rating: 4/5
Cook Smarts on the other hand is targeted at the novice cook and with small budgets in mind. Fast, simple recipes with minimal steps. Cook Smarts also gives you the option to sub out recipes when you are planning your week, if something isn’t to your tastes. This gives you more flexibility than Fresh20, but not so complicated that you end up over spending (see Real Plans below). I must confess I have a girl crush on founder Jess Dang. Her social media savvy is building a real community of people around the benefits of eating a simple home cooked meal. Since I downloaded the free meals, Jess is mailing me weekly and what’s bizarre is I am actually reading what she writes. Another friend who has recently signed up, is rating meals on Instagram and getting responses from Jess. The website has some interesting ideas on how to gamify vegetable consumption for kids. We hit the jackpot this week, when grandma called a quinoa chicken lettuce wrap a ‘boat’ – kid ate salad for the first time and asked for it again. Bingo. Mobile ready website with weekly emails.
Cost per month: $72 a year annual plan (get 15% through Instagram)
Best for: Beginners
Overall Rating: 4/5
The USP of this site is personalization. You can upload your own recipes and customize with your weekly meal plan with other recipes from the site and other sites like Nom Nom Paleo. Recipe choices are between Traditional, Paleo and Vegetarian. You can also edit the shopping list based on what you already have in the kitchen. Great easy to use app. First time set-up on the site took me an hour. Then when I got to the supermarket it was the biggest, most expensive shop I’ve ever done. My bad. My poor personalization. Overall, the site might appeal to someone who already knows how to cook and plan meals already. That someone is not me. Also, there were no free sample plans so I spent $14 to learn this. They do offer 30-day money back guarantee if you have the time for that admin. But have to say the Asian Slow Cooker Short ribs was to die for. That recipe is a keeper.
Cost per month: $72
Best for: Good for advanced cooks
Overall Rating: 3/5
What’s unique about this site is that it enables you to identify your local grocery store so that it connects directly to what’s on sale in your local that week. If you like couponing and getting the best bang for your buck, this may well be for you. Menu plans offered are ‘Everything’ and then five different options with various animal proteins excluded. You can choose for family or for 2 people. Recipes are pretty basic. A menu plan that fits on one A4 bit of paper covering all five meals, plus a shopping list. No fancy steps. No special pantry items. Meals like tacos, spaghetti bolognese. We did it for a week and our meals were ready in minutes. No compliments on the food from anyone, but no rejection either. Got us through another hectic week with zero brain power from me.
Cost per month: $48
Best for: Good for bargain hunters who like it mild
Overall Rating: 2/5
So there you have it. How to take the thinking out of home cooked meals. Maybe I have more in common with Valium-popping 1950s housewives than I realize. Happy experimenting!